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The 280 mm Gun at the Nevada Proving Ground

by AFSWP

Published 1953


The testing of the Mark 9 atomic artillery shell was the Grable event, part of a much larger series of nuclear detonations under the umbrella of Operation UPSHOT-KNOTHOLE in 1953.

This operation conducted at the Nevada Test Site consisted of 11 atmospheric tests. There were three airdrops, seven tower tests, and one airburst. Conducted between March 17 and June 4, 1953, this operation involved the testing of new theories. A new and revolutionary method of producing deliverable nuclear weapons was successfully tested. Approximately 21,000 Department of Defense military and civilian personnel participated in Operation UPSHOT-KNOTHOLE as part of the DESERT ROCK V exercise.

Unfortunately, Operation UPSHOT-KNOTHOLE, particularly the "Harry" test, drew a great deal of criticism as resultant fallout levels produced increased offsite radiation exposures.

The tests comprising the 1953 Operation UPSHOT-KNOTHOLE were as follows:

ANNIE, March 17, tower, weapons related, 16 kilotons (kt)
NANCY, March 24, tower, weapons related, 24 kt
RUTH, March 31, tower, weapons related, 200 tons
DIXIE, April 6, airdrop, weapons related, 11 kt
RAY, April 11, tower, weapons related, 200 tons
BADGER, April 18, tower, weapons related, 23 kt
SIMON, April 25, tower, weapons related, 43 kt
ENCORE, May 8, airdrop, weapons effects, 27 kt [an important test in correlating blastwave and devastating precursor wave formation data of the Grable event]
HARRY, May 19, tower, weapons related, 32 kt
GRABLE, May 25, fired from 280 mm gun, 500 feet airburst, weapons related, 15 kt [equivalent to the yield of the bomb the destroyed Hiroshima, Japan]
CLIMAX, June 4, airdrop, weapons related, 61 kt

The Mark 9 nuclear artillery shell weighed 550 pounds and was fired 7 miles from the cannon firing location to the target array downrange.

The original state of this film was VERY grainy. The grain has been reduced only enough not to destroy details in artifacts resembling watercolor washing away of visual details. This film was locked away for decades in secret vaults. It therefore deteriorated over time with negelect and lack of controlled environments for what was later to be discovered as very unstable 16 mm Kodachrome I film. Colors faded, others bled through the celluloid, creating greenish to deeply blue patches in clear sky scenes, for example.

The clipping distortion of the cannon firing was in the original film and could be expected for microphones recording blasts from an 11 inches/280 mm bore cannon of 1953.

Related Sites:

http://www.archive.org/details/ExerciseDesertRock1951

http://www.archive.org/details/OperationGreenhouse1951

http://www.archive.org/details/TumblerSnapper1952

http://www.archive.org/details/OperationIVY1952

http://www.archive.org/details/CastleCommandersReport1954

http://www.archive.org/details/MilitaryEffectsStudiesonOperationCastle1954

http://www.archive.org/details/MilitaryEffectsonOperationRedwing1956

http://www.archive.org/details/OperationDOMINICNuclearTests1962


Run time 10 minutes 33 seconds
Producer AFSWP
Production Company U.S. Air Force Lookout Mountain Laboratory, Hollywood, California, USA
Audio/Visual mono, color, originated from 16 mm Kodachrome I celluloid stocks of the time
Language English

Credits

The license holder of this film insists that any site (or individuals) linking or independently displaying through any Internet protocol to this film, to visibly, clearly and fully credit in text this organization ["Nuclear Weapons Vault"] on any pages linked, for providing this film: "Provided by the Nuclear Weapons Vault" This license does NOT allow derivations or alterations of this film. This license does NOT allow use of any portion of this film as part of other films, and this license does NOT allow artistic or technical alterations or commercial uses. This license does NOT allow this film to be displayed other than its entirety in the final forms of the files posted at Archive.org.

Reviews

Reviewer: JonathanDP - - February 19, 2010
Subject: It was 50's, everything had to be atomic.
Here's a great example of the military always fighting the last war. After the WWII the army seemed to think the best way for it to enter the atomic age was the M65 Atomic Cannon, directly inspired by the Nazi's giant railroad guns. While it was a major technical achievement for the time, according to the Wikipedia page on it, the thing was basically obsolete from day one. Compare it to even loonier M-388 Davy Crockett, a bloody nuclear recoilless rifle!

Interesting film, if quite grainy like the description says. Probably could have half the time and still gotten their point across, but still fun to watch.
Reviewer: Kevin VandeWettering - - October 14, 2007
Subject: Not a valid license
Works created by the United States Government are public domain. The claims of this "license holder" are invalid. This is a public domain film.
Reviewer: movieman - - April 16, 2006
Subject: Not something you see every day
Interesting, but too much driving around and not enough big explosions for my taste. Even so, the idea of driving a huge nuclear cannon through the streets of Las Vegas today would seem pretty bizarre even if they still existed!

What puzzles me is why they believed these weapons would be useful. With a range of only a few miles and taking some time to set up, surely it could be destroyed by Soviet aircraft well before their troops were within firing range?
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